Today the Government launched the National Planning Practice Guidance as part of their reforms to the planning system. Buglife is pleased to see Government requiring wildlife surveys of brownfield land, before planning permission is granted, but there is still no definition of what brownfield land of ‘high environmental value’ actually is.
With Nick Boles stressing the importance of bringing brownfield land back into use and the National Planning Policy Framework stating that brownfield land should be redeveloped as long as it is ‘not of high environmental value’, this definition is crucial.
Buglife’s Planning Manager Alice Farr said “Without clarity on what constitutes a high value site some of our best sites for rare and endangered wildlife could be under threat. There is a wealth of evidence showing us that some brownfield land is wildlife rich, in particular for threatened bugs. Two of the UK’s top five sites for wildlife are brownfields- Canvey Wick an abandoned oil refinery and West Thurrock Marshes, a former power station. West Thurrock Marshes has more biodiversity per square foot then any other site in the UK."
“These sites are continually under threat. Over a six-year period, over half of important brownfield sites in the Thames Gateway have been lost, damaged or are under immediate threat. In London this figure is a staggering two thirds of sites.”
Development should be targeted on brownfield land provided it is not of high environmental value. Provisional figures from Defra indicate that only around 10% of brownfield sites are likely to be of high value for wildlife so ensuring protection of these sites will not prevent development.
Studies suggest that the best brownfield sites match the best ancient woodlands in terms of richness and the number of rare species. Despite this wealth of wildlife, brownfield sites are often seen as eyesores or wastelands, and are targeted for development with little regard for their conservation value.
The degradation of the wider countryside due to agricultural improvement and development pressures means that brownfield sites are becoming increasingly important within ecological networks, as they provide refuges and linkages between other more traditional habitats sustaining biodiversity and act as stepping stones for species to disperse around and through urban areas.
It is estimated that around 17 species of conservation concern are strongly associated with brownfield land. In addition to this, 15% of nationally rare and scarce invertebrates have been recorded from Britain’s brownfields, with some found nowhere else, including 50% of rare solitary bees and wasps, and 35% of rare ground beetles.
The previous Government recognised this in 2007 when they included Open Mosaic Habitat on previously Developed Land (OMH) to a list of Priority habitats under Section 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act.